Friday, January 16

Easy Budgeting Tools for Android and Online Use

Well it's a new year and I've already mentioned that 2015 is the year of the budget.

Nick and I have always intended to live on a budget but never actually gotten so far as to employ one. With Nick planning to return to school in the fall, it became clear that to save money for tuition (and living on one income, yikes!) we would have to bite the budget bullet (nothing like some good alliteration).

My first task was to break down our income and regular spending. With an idea of the budget categories we would need, I set out in search of some tools to help me complete my task. I used Lifehacker and a simple google search to find most of these.

The first tool I used was budgetsimple.com recommended by Lifehacker as a simplistic way to track ones spending, it ended up being easy to use and easy to navigate. I entered our monthly budget and sat back, feeling quite satisfied.

Now this is not the first time I've used a budgeting website to do this. As I said before, Nick and I had always intended to use a budget, but never had. I've filled out similar budget spreadsheets and used similar websites many times including Easy Budget and Mint.com. I quickly realized, if I want this to stick, I'm going to have to make it easier and more practical to log expenses.

Budget Simple doesn't have a companion app so I set about looking for one.

Nick and I discussed how we would track our spending and decided that we would prefer to keep a bi-weekly budget instead of a monthly budget to match our bi-weekly pay periods. This way, we can say 'from this check I need to put this much on my visa or into savings', and then we don't have to worry again until next check. The only tricky thing about this method is that some expenses are still monthly (like rent, insurance, or phone bills that come out once a month). We decided the best way to craft our budget would be to remove monthly payments like those above, and use the envelope system to deal with bi-weekly expenditures (groceries, clothing, etc). We use our personal accounts for monthly expenses, and a joint account for our joint bi-weekly spending.

Finding a mobile app to suit our needs was incredibly hard. I started with a google search and poured through a multitude of slideshows and lists of 'best android apps for budgeting' and 'simple budgeting apps for android' etc. I downloaded probably fifteen different budget apps including iwallet, goodbudget, My Budget, You Need a Budget, Simple Budget, Expense Manager, Spendee, One Touch Expenser, and more. Although many of these apps were beautifully designed, none of them did what or behaved the way I wanted them too. They were either too cluttered, offered too many functions I didn't need, or didn't offer a function I needed. In fact, only two of the apps I downloaded did offer bi-weekly budgeting.

I found the app I needed through a happy fluke while browsing aimlessly through the google play store. It's called Better Haves, a budgeting app for couples. Now, I find this kinda hilarious. Who would have thought something with the potential to be so cheesy would work so well for us. Turns out, Better Haves functions perfectly. Here's why:

A screenshot from my phone.
  •  It's a simple, envelope based budget app.
  • It allows multiple accounts so Nick and I can both access it from our phones. When he adds a transaction, it syncs to both phones so we're always up to date with each others spending. 
  • The length of your budgets duration is completely custom. You can enter whatever you want, whether you budget daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. This was a huge deal considering our needs. 
  • It allows you to keep some budget lines separate from your SO. For example, if we wanted to have a small amount of spending money for each of us in separate accounts, that would stay hidden from the main page (under the 'yours' tab) so my transactions would be totally at my discretion.
  • It keeps savings separate from the main budget, allows you to set saving goals and then both account holders can enter contributions towards that goal. This is actually a great feature, right now I have the amount of money nick needs for his first school semester added as a savings goal and we can see exactly how close we are to it's completion. 
  • It sends a reminder to both of our phones every night at 9PM that says "take five minutes to review today's budget", which I actually find incredibly helpful. We've been making 9PM our budgeting time, making sure we've entered all of our days transactions and that we're on the same page. 
  • It's easy on the eyes. Seriously, some of the apps I downloaded I could hardly look at. It's not the prettiest app I tried, but I find it much more intuitive then some of the others.
So far, we're really happy with Better Haves, but it's not the only tool I'm using right now. I also decided to keep the app iWallet installed. iWallet has some useful functionality beyond Better Haves, it allows you to enter all of your banking accounts (chequings, savings, visa...) and keep track of your overall net worth. Since Nick and I both have our own credit card, this view allows us to see our total debt compared to total savings. I find this really helpful to keep track of how quickly we're paying down our debt. Sadly, I really disliked the budgeting feature in iWallet, so I'm only using it for the advanced features.

Beyond android apps, I'm also using Gail Vaz-Oxlade's interactive budget worksheet to make sure our budget is balancing. She is a proponent of the envelope method (or Jar method) so her worksheet shows exactly how much money should be in each envelope, combining things like restaurants, hobbies and sports into one entertainment envelope. This can be helpful if you might spend a little more on restaurants in one month, and a little more burning those calories the next month. It's flexible, but still balances. She has other great resources on her site.

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